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A trainee is a university graduate who is systematically developed in an organization as a versatile junior employee, usually through a trainee program with coordinated assignments in various departments, seminars and network events. Colloquially, trainee is often mistakenly equated with trainee program, which can lead to some confusion.

Trainees go through special support programs with a duration usually between 12 and 24 months. Often times, trainees are candidates for future managers or future specialists. In this introductory phase, they should get to know important areas and people in an accelerated time frame and be made known themselves. This often does not happen individually, rather an attempt is made to bring the trainees of a given year together and to set group dynamic effects in motion, since, not least with managers of the same age, intensive collaboration is likely later. The skills and knowledge of the trainee are adapted to the requirements of the organization during the program.

In some industries - such as banks and insurance companies - university graduates join via a trainee program, which has a long tradition. In other industries, entry via a trainee program is more of a specialty.

Types of trainee programs

There are basically three types of trainee programs: The general trainee program, the specialist trainee program and the trainee program:

  • The general trainee program is the classic trainee program in which the trainee is deployed in various departments and projects over the entire duration of his trainee program and during this time he has to take care of his transfer area himself, in which he sees the best career opportunities for himself.
  • In contrast to this, there is the specialist trainee program , in which the takeover area is determined according to the professional preferences of the trainee when he is hired. The trainee uses the entire duration of the specialist trainee program to prepare for his takeover area. To do this, he and his takeover area make a selection of departments and additional seminars, which he can use for the later takeover area in terms of contacts, experience and knowledge. In some specialist trainee programs, the position and the subsequent area of ​​responsibility are not determined until the end of the trainee program. In this case, the trainee program is followed by an induction phase for the position.
  • The trainee program, on the other hand, is an early form of specialist and managerial generation. In most of these programs, the employer offers the student financial support for the duration of his studies, for example the assumption of study costs or a trainee salary. In return, the student undertakes to undertake practical work during the course (for example, weekly part-time work, internships during the lecture-free periods, thesis) in the company and, if necessary, a two to five year commitment to the company after completing his studies. The trainee program is therefore often just a synonym for the dual course of study , part-time studies or for company grants. It also has parallels to a working student position .

Many large corporations have so far offered the first two types of trainee programs. While in the general trainee program an assessment center for personnel selection is common, in the specialist trainee program the personnel selection is often more individual in personal interviews with the manager of the subsequent takeover area, among others. The trainee program is becoming more and more important due to the effects of demographic change .

The general trainee program is particularly interesting for trainees who want to test their takeover area first, both professionally and personally. The specialist trainee program is more aimed at trainees who are very technically oriented and who want to compromise on the soft factors. The trainee program is interesting for prospective students who already had clear ideas about their professional future as a school student and would like to improve their career opportunities through a long-term relationship with an employer.

Structure and process of trainee programs

Trainee positions only become interesting through the trainee program. The trainee's appreciation and value in the company is reflected in the trainee program. Typical components of a trainee program are, for example, introductory events, network events and general seminars (e.g. on soft skills ) and the schedule of when the trainee gets to know which areas of the company. In many trainee programs, the deployment plan is planned in sections.

There are very different types of deployment in specialist trainee programs. For example, the takeover area can be represented in the operational plan with 50% of the duration, plus additional assignments in other areas of the company, in which the trainee is also assessed based on the tasks performed there. As a third form of deployment, there can also be shorter information phases of one to two weeks, for example, in which a trainee only visits certain departments for information purposes.

The trainee program can also include training for the trainee mentors or an evaluation system that makes it easier to take over after the trainee program has ended.

Some trainee programs also include training courses that are only carried out at the end of or after a trainee program, such as several weeks of training in project management according to the company's own standards.

There are standardized, semi-standardized and completely individual trainee programs. Most trainee programs have a certain formalism for which a central HR department is responsible, so that the minimum quality of a trainee program can be ensured in the negotiations between the various company areas and in the takeover process.

Trainee programs can be roughly divided into four phases: the introductory phase, the qualification phase, the stay abroad and the specialization phase.

Nevertheless, in contrast to an internship , vocational training or a traineeship, there are no legally binding standards or generally binding guidelines for trainee programs . Every company can offer its own trainee program, regardless of the framework conditions and training content. As a result, trainee programs can differ greatly from company to company in terms of learning content, duration, payment and career prospects. In December 2011, with the support of the Süddeutsche Zeitung , the Chair of Human Resource Management at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the Absolventa job exchange launched the “career-promoting and fair trainee programs” to provide applicants with orientation and to honor particularly high-quality trainee programs . The initiative honors companies that guarantee high-quality trainee training (including comprehensive support, demanding tasks, appropriate remuneration, regular training).

Differentiation from other forms of professional entry

There are two classic alternatives to the trainee program for graduates, direct entry or an assistant position. The distinction between these two forms and the trainee program is not always easy because the trainee program is not a protected term.

The direct entry differs from the trainee program in that the direct entry immediately takes a position and is specifically integrated into this position through on-the-job training and seminars. The organizational exploration, networking and finding a suitable, interesting task characteristic of the trainee program are omitted or only carried out rudimentary. In some companies, direct entrants also receive a mentor. For the further career of a graduate, direct entry or a trainee program are basically equivalent. While the graduate can take on responsibility more quickly with direct entry, the graduate with the trainee program can plan his career strategically and systematically build it up, but he must also actively use these opportunities.

The assistant position is typically an assistant to a board member or an assistant to a management. The main difference to a trainee program is that in an assistant position, the assistant gets to know the decision-making mechanisms and reasons for decision-making at the highest level from his supporting activity for his manager. In the process, the assistant acquires specialist knowledge and intimate knowledge of the company, which he must successfully apply after two to four years by changing to another position in the company. The assistant position and the trainee program have in common that the later target position has to be found / created during participation. In the case of an assistant position, on the other hand, the introductory and familiarization phase is very short, while in a trainee program it ideally extends over the entire duration.

There are also a number of other career entry forms such as internships , traineeships , legal clerkship or vicarage . With these types of career entry, the focus is on branch and professional research and / or probation based on practical work. From the employer's point of view, long-term cooperation with the newcomer is not intended from the outset for these types of career entry. Accordingly, the selection of personnel is less critical because, by definition, it is primarily a worker and less a junior employee as in a trainee program, direct entry or an assistant position.


  • Doris Brenner; Frank Brenner, Birgit Giesen: Trainee programs . In: Individual apply, 4th ed., 2000, Cologne: Staufenbiel , ISBN 978-3-922132-13-4 , pages 60–67 (core topic: differences between direct entry vs. trainee program).
  • Claudia Becker: trainee program . In: Reiner Bröckermann, Michael Müller-Vorbrüggen (eds.): Handbuch Personalentwicklung, 2006, Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poesche, ISBN 978-3-7910-2435-6 , pages 229-240 (core topic : structure and process of a trainee program).
  • Stefan Rippler: Trainee Knigge , 1st edition, 2012, Heidelberg: Springer-Gabler , ISBN 978-3-834943-37-8 .